Legendary singer Marvin Gaye is one of DC’s most popular native sons, and his soulful sound helped to define Motown as it was coming to age in the early ’60s. Gaye was responsible for such great tunes as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and was dubbed the “Prince of Motown.”
Jarran Muse has the honor of donning Gaye’s fashions and performing his soulful hits each night in the touring production of Motown the Musical, playing the National Theatre from Dec. 1 though Jan. 3.
Looking at Muse, it’s easy to see a young Marvin Gaye in his prime, and once he sings, it’s as though he transports people back in time.
“It’s easy to channel Marvin because I feel I really connect with him,” he says. “I never realized how much people thought I looked and sounded like Marvin—especially when I have the beard. It’s really cool.”
The musical chronicles Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from boxer to the heavyweight music mogul, responsible for launching careers of such acclaimed performers as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and of course, Gaye.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
December 1 – January 3
The National Theatre
1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Tickets: $48 – $98
Tuesdays thru Sundays
“Growing up in America, everyone is familiar with Motown, whether they know it or not. It’s everywhere you go and was a big part of my life,” he says. “People are going to love the music in this show. Plus, most don’t realize how Motown was founded and they will get a really cool history lesson as to why Mr. Gordy created it and the reasons he put this music out. Motown helped integrate people because people were seeing the first African American groups on television.”
Muse has been on and off with the show since its initial reading in 2011. He had to step away from Motown during its workshop because he was cast in American Idiot, and he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to perform on Broadway. At the time, there was no guarantee that Motown would head to the Great White Way itself.
“They replaced me and then they got the green light, so they asked if I would be interested in swinging the show, something I had never done before,” Muse says. “I thought it would be the worst experience of my life, but it ended up being the best. It was so much fun.”
Part of his responsibilities was understudying Bryan Terrell Clark (the original Marvin Gaye) and a year later when producers were casting the tour, they asked Muse to play the part.
“I like to read up on him before every performance, I listen to some of his past interviews, I listen to the music and I feel like I really can connect with him that way,” Muse says. “I never saw him live because he tragically passed away before I really understood who he was but I understand him and what the music represents.”
In his opinion, the reason Gaye’s music has lasted so long is because of the powerful message it conveys.
“Marvin was one of our great poets. If you think about what he said in his music, it’s his message that really resonates with people. When you play Marvin’s ‘What’s Going On?’ today, it’s the same thing in 2015 that it was saying in the ’60s,” he says.
Muse grew up in New Jersey, but knew nothing about Broadway. He performed in school plays and did dance, but never realized that people actually made a living in the performing arts.
“One of my mentors told me one day that I could do it, I could make a living at this thing I loved,” he says. “I dreamed of being on the ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ but by the time I was a sophomore, I was convinced into going to a performing arts high school, then got some scholarships for college and 12 years later, here I am working non-stop.”
His first foray on Broadway was in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas in 2008, and he hopes to continue to play a myriad of roles.
“I love expressing myself in ways that I can’t do in the normal world. I love immersing myself into a character, being someone else and effecting people in a way that you don’t even realize,” Muse says. “You can go out there, give a gift to share to the audience, and they can interpret it however they need to. That’s why I love it.”
Looking ahead, Muse would love to do film and television—and he patiently waits for what he said “is coming some day”—but is thrilled to be doing shows like Motown the Musical because he will always be a “theater guy.”
“No matter how successful at TV or film I am, I will always go back to Broadway,” he says. “There’s nothing like it.”